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The Indianapolis News/Indianapolis Star
BY DAVID MANNWEILER
28 November 2004
Headlines about hurricanes crashing through the Caribbean in August and September left a huge misconception in the minds of winter travelers.
"Every time there is a hurricane, people assume every island was hit and is down and out for the duration," said Gay Nagle Myers, Caribbean editor for Travel Weekly. "Absolutely, that's a misconception in the Caribbean now."
The confusion is understandable. The area extends nearly 1,700 miles from Cuba in the west to Barbados in the east. But very few of the 30-some Caribbean islands with large tourism draws suffered heavy hurricane damage from Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan or Tropical Storm Jeanne.
The Cayman Islands, the non-hotel side of the Dominican Republic, Grenada and the Bahamas islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco reported major destruction from the hurricanes.
Left practically untouched were Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin/St. Maarten, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago. The popular U.S. Virgin Islands, which technically are not Caribbean, also escaped lasting damage.
David Cumpston, spokesman for the travel Web site SideStep.com, said travel to the Caribbean this year is ahead of 2003 figures. "It looks like a 19 percent increase in Caribbean air traffic volume in 2004 over 2003," Cumpston said.
"The Florida/Hawaii traffic looks relatively unchanged from 2003. Travel to Europe during the winter is way down -- about 25 percent below a year ago. So it looks like a shift from Europe to the Caribbean for wintertime travel," he added.
To keep tourists coming, island businesses are offering rare bargain prices for winter trips in the Caribbean. Holiday Inn, for instance, is offering a free night at any of its island inns or SunSpree Resorts to anyone purchasing three consecutive nights through Dec. 15. Other hotels are matching those extra-night deals.
Here's some of what travelers can expect to find:
Puerto Rico escaped serious hurricane damage to its championship golf courses (it has more than any other Caribbean destination). That was very good news for the third annual Puerto Rico Ambassador's Cup, a pro-am tournament hosted by Chi Chi Rodriguez and scheduled on three different courses Dec. 15-19.
The Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino, across from the city's cruise piers, is undergoing a $4 million renovation of its 385 rooms with ocean, mountain or beach views. The 10-story resort has Puerto Rico's largest casino. The El Conquistador Resort and Spa is adding 67 luxury villas on a 300-foot bluff and two swimming pools.
Interest is growing for vacations on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques, now that the U.S. Navy has stopped using the island as a bombing range. The Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa, (recently ranked one of the world's top nine new resort destinations by the Robb Report) has rooms beginning at $145 a night. The guesthouse Posada Vistamar has $55-a-night rooms. Visitors to Vieques have a choice of 40 beaches, including three phosphorescent bays that glow in the night.
Beach connoisseurs like San Juan's Isla Verde for windsurfing, the town of Isabela's Shacks Beach for surfing and Luquillo Beach, near the El Yunque Rainforest, for its fine white sand. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in a U.S. National Park.
Puerto Rico Tourism Co., (800) 866-7827, www.gotopuertorico.com.
The prices quoted in this article came from advertisements, hotel and resort Web sites and Internet travel sites. Prices are subject to change due to accommodation dates, non-stated room taxes and room location.
If you go
Check with travel agents or consolidators about hotel-airfare packages, which usually are better deals. Round-trip airfares start at around $400. Helpful Web sites include expedia.com, travelocity.com, hoteldiscounts.com, orbitz.com and travelweb.com.
Sources: The Star, U.S. Department of State